By Ron Suskind, author of A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League (Broadway Books, 1999)
Two decades ago, I went to the toughest school I could find in America. It happened to be in my hometown, Washington, DC, where I was the national affairs reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Bill Clinton was President, an economic boom was beginning, and despite the OJ Simpson verdict and Rodney King’s plea to “just get along,” there was reasoned optimism that progress in race relations was underway, slow but steady, with a growing African-American middle class and opportunities borne of affirmative action. I found a young man, a big dreamer with a dad in jail and a struggling mom, and followed him, his family, and an ensemble of characters, several of them white and privileged, for four years. The yield-a Pulitzer Prize winning series and then best-selling book, A Hope in the Unseen-were works that I hoped would last, and they did. Like The Other Wes Moore or Bryan Stevenson‘s Just Mercy, Hope was a favorite of the common reading experience and went on to sell a half-million copies.
But books are like children; the author births them and sets them out into the world; they travel inestimable distances from your keyboard, develop relationships and find their own way. Hope has found its true home-and history’s ardent embrace-in this year of Ferguson and Charleston. The fiery themes expressed in street protests and Ta Nehisi Coates‘ deeply personal Between the World and Me, are actually played out in the twisting lives of Cedric Jennings, Hope‘s evocative American seeker, his imprisoned father, fierce church-going mother, duck-and-shuck classmates-cutting their hopes and losses-and gang leaders, who own the school halls and street corners, and run from the police. From the church Pastor, who leads prayers for Cedric as he leaves for Brown University, to the many white students he meets in the freshman dorm, this book renders the full American ensemble, as the reader walks in the shoes of characters whose relevance has grown across the years. It is, in fact, a heart-song narrative on why Black Lives Matter. They do. A Hope in the Unseen helps each reader find their own way to that powerful truth, as it seeks-in those times and these-an elusive story of “us,” the shared national narrative.
RON SUSKIND is the author of The Globe and Mail and New York Times bestsellers The One Percent Doctrine, The Price of Loyalty, and A Hope in the Unseen (Simon & Schuster). From 1993 to 2000 he was the senior national affairs writer for The Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. He is a lecturer at Harvard Law School and lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife, Cornelia Kennedy Suskind.